The research highlights the risks associated with not preparing a will and the financially devastating consequences for relatives of the deceased, particularly for cohabiting couples who are not afforded the same rights as those who are married.
When a UK resident dies without leaving a will, they are classed as dying 'intestate' without a next of kin. Any assets and wealth are then listed as unclaimed, eventually going to the Crown. As of 5 November 2018, over 8,800 estates remain listed* on the Gov.UK website, including those of citizens who died abroad.
With the median household total wealth in Yorkshire & the Humber standing at Â£216,300**, and 702 unclaimed estates listed, BLM estimates there to be potentially Â£151,842,600 worth of unclaimed wealth in the region. The research uncovers the underlying issue that the area is not sufficiently prepared, or understands the consequences of, not having a valid will in place.
James Beresford, the firm's wills and estate planning legal expert refers to this as will apathy: 'It's incredible that we place such importance on owning property and to be prepared for savings and pensions, but are apathetic when it comes to estate planning. This research emphasises how many people are wholly unprepared when it comes to ensuring that their loved ones benefit from their estates.'
'Whatever assets might classify as your estate, whether property, possessions or wealth, it is important that you clearly set how these assets should be handled and protected after you pass away, to legally protect your family adequately.'
Beresford emphasised the impact this can have on unmarried couples: 'With cohabiting families growing in popularity, it is just as crucial to define who should inherit your assets. Under the rules of intestacy, cohabitees have no rights to the estate. If you haven't named your partner in your will, or as a nominated beneficiary under any life insurance, they stand to be left with nothing. This includes your home, wealth or physical assets, with your estate automatically transferred to your next of kin or listed as unclaimed.'
Even when a couple is married or in a civil partnership, without a will, the rules of intestacy mean a spouse is not automatically entitled to the entire estate. For estates valued over Â£250,000, spouses are entitled to all personal belongings, the first Â£250,000, and half of the remaining estate '“ the rest is split amongst the deceased's children and potentially grandchildren. If there are no children, then the surviving spouse will inherit everything.
The analysis stresses the importance of creating a will that clearly dictates the entitlement of each relative. In addition to property, financial or physical possessions, a will can also determine who is responsible for the care of children, even pets - areas that are often overlooked. Beresford continued: 'At what is always a highly tumultuous time, wills can put your families' minds at ease and avoid lengthy, costly legal battles. Furthermore, it means your children or dependents are left in the best care.'
Beresford noted:Â 'When it comes to the question of why we seem reluctant to prepare a will, there are a number of reasons. Many people don't openly discuss the matter; we like to think we are invincible, we might think it could take too much time to prepare, but, more importantly, people don't know, or have the wrong ideas about, what will happen if they don't make a will.'
'Yet, as our analysis reveals, the general public is largely unaware of the risks loved ones are left open to if a will is not created. At an already stressful time, you can leave them vulnerable to further financial and emotional strain. Failure to prepare instructions before the unfortunate event of your passing can leave your family unprotected, and their future unsure.'
According to the regional breakdown conducted by the law firm, London had the highest number of unclaimed estates at 2,624, followed by the South East at 1,578 and the Midlands with 1,127.